Interviewee: Aaron M. Kanner
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
Date: April 14, 1989
This interview is part of a series conducted by Dr. Samuel Proctor on the
University of Florida College of Law. Aaron Kanner is an alumnus and a strong
supporter of the University of Florida College of Law. He and his first wife Marsella
have two sons, Richard and Lewis, and he currently resides in Miami.
Aaron Mitchell Kanner was born in 1905 in Orlando. His parents came to Florida
from Romania, where his father was in the mercantile trade. His father had a brother in
Sanford, hence the move to that vicinity. In addition to the mercantile business, Florida
afforded his father opportunity in agriculture, and he became engaged in truck farming
celery. Kanner has an older sister, Rose, who lives in Coral Gables, and a younger
brother, Sam, who is a lawyer in Miami.
Kanner grew up in Orlando and attended public schools there. He played
baseball he vividly recalls beating out Rollie Tinker for a position on the team.
(Tinker's father played shortstop for the Chicago Cubs.) Being a Jewish family, the
Kanners tried to maintain a traditional Jewish home, "as traditional as it could be
accommodated in Orlando."
In 1923 Kanner left Orlando for the University of Florida. He describes
Gainesville in the 1920s boarding and rooming houses, eating establishments,
campus life, pajama parades, ROTC drill and parades, buildings on campus,
transportation, etc. He also discusses fraternities, particularly the establishment of the
Tau Epsilon Phi [TEP] and Phi Beta Delta [now Pi Lambda Phi] fraternities. Fuller
Warren, future governor of Florida, was one of Kanner's classmates. He also recollects
University President Albert A. Murphee and how he knew the students by name.
After his freshman year, Kanner moved over to the UF College of Law, where he
participated with the John Marshall Bar Society. During the interview, he recounts the
law faculty. To make ends meet, Kanner worked at Herman Liebowitz's L & L Men's
Shop. He graduated from the UF law school in 1927.
After law school, Kanner went to work in a law firm in Miami. He has been
active in the Florida Bar Association, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Mount
Sinai Hospital. During his free time, Kanner enjoys playing golf and cards. He also
continues to support vigorously UF's law school, feeling that "the modicum of success
that I have had in the practice of law I achieved through the training that I had here.... I
intend to try to pay back to the University in part what the University gave me the
opportunity to do."
P: This is an interview with Aaron M. Kanner, a University of Florida alumnus. We
are in the Ford Library of the Florida Museum of Natural History. This is the
afternoon of April 14, 1989, and this interview is for the University of Florida Oral
History Project. I am going to start off, Aaron, asking you to give me your full
name. Please tell me what the middle initial stands for, also.
K: Aaron Mitchell Kanner.
P: Where do you live?
K: At 5151 Collins Avenue, Apartment 508, Miami Beach, 33140.
P: So that means we know how to get in touch with you if we need you.
K: Yes, for solicitation of funds.
P: Aaron, when and where were you born?
K: I was born in 1905 in Orlando, Florida, on the fifteenth day of December.
P: So at your most recent birthday you were a little bit over thirty-nine.
K: Yes. In reverse, actually: eighty-three.
P: Aaron, you were born in Orlando. I would like to ask you a little bit about your
family and its history in Orlando. What was your father's name?
K: My father's name was Harry.
P: And your mother's name?
P: What was her maiden name?
K: I think it was Tannenbaum, but I am not certain of that.
P: From where did your father come?
K: He came from a small town in Romania. He emigrated to this country around
1901 or 1902. When he landed in New York, he came straight to Orlando,
Florida, where he established a mercantile business.
P: Was there any special reason why he came directly to Orlando, rather than
K: Yes, he had a brother who was living in Sanford, which is twenty-four miles north
P: You had family, as I understand it, that came to Florida in the nineteenth century
and that lived both in Orlando and in Quincy.
K: Yes, I had an aunt, my dad's sister, who lived in Quincy, Florida.
P: What was her name?
K: I really do not know her first name, but her last name was Seligmann.
P: So she was also obviously from this little town in Romania, and she came over.
Was she married, do you know, or did she get married here?
K: I think she was married in this country after she came here.
P: I see. And they lived in Quincy. They first lived in Orlando and then moved to
K: I do not know very much about her background except that my dad always
referred to her as "the old lady" because she was the oldest of the children of the
P: How many brothers and sisters did your father have? That was one; that was
his oldest sister.
K: He had two more sisters, Aunt Rose and another one who lived in Tampa I
cannot remember her name. He also had three brothers: Uncle Charlie, Uncle
Morris, and Uncle Coleman.
P: Was your father the oldest in the family of the brothers, and was he responsible
for bringing the others over?
K: No, Uncle Charlie was. He was the oldest. Papa was about in the middle of
P: So Charlie also came from Romania to New York and to Orlando, and that is why
your father and the rest of the family followed.
P: What was Charlie's business?
K: The same as my father: the mercantile business. He also went into celery
P: So he must have been in on the early truck farming activities there.
K: Yes, he was.
P: Do you know when Charlie came to Orlando?
K: It was right after the Spanish-American War.
P: Which means that it was shortly after 1898, then.
K: Right. He was in Orlando in 1900.
P: What about your mother?
K: She stayed in Romania, and my dad sent for her and brought her over. They
were married in Sanford.
P: That must have been one of the earliest Jewish marriages in Sanford, then.
K: It was probably the earliest.
P: To your knowledge, were there any other Jews living in Sanford at the time?
K: Not that I ever heard of.
P: And there were just a few Jewish families in Orlando.
K: Well, I had a cousin by the name of Solomon, and I remember the Bermans.
There were maybe three or four families; that is all there were.
P: Let us talk about your growing up years in Orlando, Aaron. You were born, you
say, in 1903?
P: Did you go to school in Orlando?
K: I went to Orlando public schools Orlando High School. When I graduated from
there, I went to the University of Florida.
P: Were you a good student in elementary and high school?
K: On the courses I liked I was, and on those that I did not like I paid no attention to
P: Did you work at all in the store or doing other things?
K: Yes. I did not work for pay, but I helped my dad out in his store operation.
P: That was not at all unusual for kids in those days.
P: Did you get any kind of an allowance or anything like that?
K: I had bread and board, I am sure of that.
P: I am sure it was good bread and board.
K: Beyond that, nothing of a specified amount, no.
P: What were any problems or experiences that you had growing up as a young
Jewish boy in Orlando?
K: I did not have any, as I recall. I was just one of the gang of kids.
P: Were you involved in sports?
K: Baseball. I played for the Orlando High School baseball team. I was the
second baseman. I remember I beat Rollie Tinker out of the job. His father
was a shortstop with the Chicago Cubs; he was part of the great trio of "Tinker to
Evers to [Frank] Chance" [double play combination shortstop to second base to
first base. Ed.]. I remember I beat Rollie Tinker out of the job.
P: What was social life like? Orlando was a little town in those years.
K: As the town grew and the families grew, social life was very limited. It had to do
mostly with family occasions, such as a marriage, one of the families having a
child, or bar mitzvahs. That is about all I can recall.
P: Aaron, what about your own brothers and sisters?
K: I had one brother and one sister.
P: What about your brother?
K: Sam died about eight or ten years ago.
P: And your sister?
K: She is married. Her name is Rose Friedman.
P: She lives in Miami, does she not?
K: Coral Gables.
P: Are you the oldest of the children?
K: My sister was the oldest. I was second in command.
P: Sam was a lawyer, too, was he not?
K: He was.
P: He lived in Miami?
K: He did.
P: I understand his wife has recently died. Is that right? Is she still living?
K: Unless they never told me that she died.
P: I thought there was something that had to do with the papers. Maybe she
moved or something.
K: She moved to Sarasota.
P: That was it, then. Let me ask you about your father and mother. When did
your father die?
K: He was seventy-eight when he died. He must have died ten or twelve years ago
P: When did your mother die? The reason I am asking is because you have a
stepmother, and I was just trying to get that on the record.
K: My mother died in my twelfth year, before my thirteenth birthday.
P: Before your bar mitzvah.
P: And your father married again, then.
K: He did.
P: What was the name of his second wife?
P: Anna. I remember in more recent years she lived in the River Garden home for
the aged in Jacksonville.
K: After my dad died, she deeded the house that papa left to her in Orlando to River
Garden, and she went to Jacksonville to live there.
P: You were bar mitzvahed in Orlando.
K: I was.
P: Do you remember that?
K: I do.
P: Tell me about who the rabbi was and how you got the training you needed.
K: The training was very elementary. It was something where the rabbi from
Tampa wrote out a speech for me, which I had to memorize, and I had to play a
violin concert of one piece to show my accomplishment. I made that speech,
and we had a party in our home. That was it. I had no Hebrew training at all.
P: Was your family an observant Jewish family?
K: The best we could. We were not kosher because you could not be kosher in
Orlando and still have any meats or anything they were just not available. My
dad was brought up, I am sure, in a kosher home, and he observed all the
traditions as best he could. I remember that my mother used to make Passover.
She would make the farfel for the soup. Those items were not available in the
grocery stores as they are now.
P: So you grew up in a traditional Jewish home, or as traditional as it could be
accommodated in Orlando.
P: There were only a handful of Jewish families, but you did have a rabbi, so at
least there was a group of families that could take care of the needs of a
K: Well, the rabbi came years after. I had probably already left Orlando when the
rabbi came. The rabbi who wrote my speech was from Tampa. My dad had
requested that he write such a speech for me, and he wrote it in long hand. I
P: Aaron, I want to talk mainly about your coming to the University of Florida. I am
very interested in that. When did you get here?
K: In 1923.
P: So you graduated in 1927.
P: You came for the fall term in September of 1923. How did you get from Orlando
K: It was a very difficult trip because there was virtually no transportation from
Orlando to Gainesville. You used to take the Seaboard Air Line Railway. You
would go to Wildwood and lay over for three or four hours before you could get
another train from Wildwood to Gainesville. To describe that train I would have
to refer to the old western newspapers: the engines had those big, bellied-out
smokestacks, and the big wood-burning engine averaged maybe three miles an
hour when it was running. We never knew when we left Orlando whether it
would get here or not.
P: Had you ever been to Gainesville before you came that first time?
P: But other kids from Orlando had gone to school in Gainesville.
K: Well, this was a state university. FSCW [Florida State Women's College in
Tallahassee, presently Florida State University] was the girl's school, and this
[the University of Florida] was a state university. I wanted to take up law as a
profession, and you had to go to either the University of Florida or Stetson
University in Deland.
P: Were you the first member of your family to go to college?
K: From my dad's family, yes. From Uncle Charlie's family, my cousin A. O.
Kanner, who later became a circuit judge and then an appeals court judge, had
gone to Stetson. He had been admitted to the bar and was practicing.
P: But you were the first of the Kanner family to come to the University of Florida?
K: From Orlando, yes.
P: Well, from anywhere. There were no other Kanners that had come here, were
K: [There was] A. O. Kanner from Sanford, who was Uncle Charlie's son.
P: But you said he went to Stetson.
P: So you were the first Kanner at the University of Florida, the first Gator in the
P: So you left Orlando by train, went to Wildwood, changed trains there I guess
that was the train that came in from Tampa and rode that train to Gainesville.
Where was the railroad station located in those days?
K: Downtown. The railroad track used to go right through the middle of downtown.
It was not Main Street, but I guess you would call it First Street.
P: It was Main Street then, too.
K: Then it was on Main Street.
P: And you got off near where the old White House Hotel was located?
P: Then you had to get some transportation, obviously, out to the campus itself.
K: You carried your suitcase and walked it. There was no formal transportation, no
bus service, nothing such as that.
P: Aaron, you said that you came here because you wanted to go into law. What
motivated you to want to do that?
K: I really do not know, except that I was always interested in law as a profession.
The point I want to make is that I had no real model person who I could use as
an image to send me to law. I always used to speak up, and people always said I
should be a lawyer. I guess that is what stuck in my mind. They were right,
and I started practicing law.
P: Did you do any debating in high school?
K: In class. We never formally debated any other schools; we had no such thing as
P: What kind of pressure or encouragement did you get from your family, your
father, to go to the University?
K: Only his financial support. I was never told that I should not go to college.
P: Were you told that you needed to go to college, that education was important?
K: Well, I do not think that ever entered into my dad's mind. It was always known
that I was going to go to a university, and I did.
P: You came to the University in the fall of 1923. What was the University of
Florida like in those early years?
K: It was a very informal school. I think we had less than 3,000 students in the
whole University. Everybody knew everybody on campus. Fuller Warren
[governor of Florida, 1949-1953] was a freshman in my class, and I remember
him. He had an uncanny ability to remember names if he ever met you, he
never forgot your name. I think that finally got him elected governor of this state.
P: Of course, [Albert A.] Murphree was president of the University.
K: Yes, he was. He knew his students--not by number, but by name and by image.
I remember when I finally graduated in 1927 he said to me, "Good luck, Aaron,"
when he gave me my diploma.
P: He remembered everybody and spoke to everybody as he walked around the
campus. Aaron, where did you live that first year?
K: That first year there was a lady by the name of Ma Scotton who had a cottage on
University Avenue directly opposite Language Hall. Down that street was a little
house that she owned by the name of Casa Blanca that she rented out to
students. I came up with Frank Benbow, who graduated with me from Orlando
High School, and we lived there.
P: So you two roomed together?
K: We were in the same house.
P: Have you any idea or remembrance of how much the rent was in those early
years? Less than today, of course.
K: I think it was maybe five dollars a month, tops.
P: Where did you eat?
K: At Ma Scotton's, in the cottage on University Avenue, right up the street.
P: It was a boarding house.
K: She had the boarding house and a rooming house, too. I imagine the whole
cost was twenty-five dollars a month or less.
P: Did you work on campus?
K: I did not work on campus, but I worked downtown.
P: For whom?
K: For Herman Leibowitz in the L. & L. Men's Shop.
P: What did you do for Herman?
K: I swept out the store. I used to come in on Saturdays I guess I started working
there when I was in law school and sweep out the store, and that was the last
thing I did Saturday night. I used to get to work around 1:00 in the afternoon
and quit around 1:00 the next morning.
P: Stores stayed open late in those years.
K: Yes, we did.
P: And Leibowitz's L. & L. Men's Shop was right downtown a few doors away from
the court house square.
K: That is where it was.
P: He sold men's clothing?
K: And women's clothing; anything you wanted, we had.
P: It was a general store, too. So you had brought the skills you had from your
father's place into Gainesville.
K: I sharpened them very much in Herman's place. If someone ever walked in that
door, they could not walk out without buying something, or it was your job.
P: Were there any Jewish boys on campus in 1923?
K: There was a flock of boys from Jacksonville. Goldie Goldstein was here in those
P: Who was he?
K: He was on the football team. Hy Katz was here from Jacksonville. He was on
the baseball team. They were the two nucleus members of the rival Jewish
P: Goldie Goldstein was one of the major athletes in Gator history. I understand he
is being inducted tonight into the [University of Florida] Hall of Fame.
K: It must be posthumously, because he died fifteen or twenty years ago.
P: Yes, it is posthumous. The University has established a hall of fame, and he is
being inducted tonight. He came here, as I understand it, from Jacksonville.
You may have been aware of it at the time, but in those years the athletic
program had so little money that many of the players and Goldstein was one -
were supported by business groups and others from back home. In Goldstein's
case, the money for his room and board came not from the University, because
they did not supply anything in those years, but rather from the YMHA, the Young
Men's Hebrew Association.
K: We had no support for athletics whatsoever here. Goldie was a very famous
football player. He was killed in an automobile accident.
P: Who was Hy Katz? You said he was from Jacksonville.
K: He was a tall, skinny guy; that is all I know about him.
P: What position did he play on the baseball team?
K: He was a pitcher.
P: Did he become as famous as Goldstein?
K: Never. I do not know how I recall his name, but I do remember Hy Katz, and he
was a pitcher. I guess I remember him because once when my fraternity and
Phi Beta Delta [PhiBD] fraternity were playing an interfraternity baseball game,
he pitched for the Phi Beta Deltas. We won the game I remember that.
P: Aaron, do you recall the names of any other Jewish boys who were here at the
K: I know the boys who were in my fraternity.
P: We will get to that in just a minute about the organization of the fraternity. What
was the look of the campus in 1923-1924?
K: All the buildings had that venerable look because they were all vine-covered; it
grew up the sides of the walls.
P: They were all built around the plaza.
K: Well, they were sort of scattered. The law school was at the entrance of Ocala
Avenue and University Drive.
P: Thirteenth Street was then called Ocala Avenue?
K: Yes, Ocala Drive. Language Hall, as I said, was right across from Ma Scotton's
cottage. The engineering college was on up the street and then left about a
block and a half.
P: Which was called Benton Hall.
K: Benton Hall is right. Then there was Peabody Hall, which was the Teacher's
College, and Science Hall.
P: Floyd Hall was the agricultural building.
K: Yes. Those were the buildings.
P: When you first came, the [University Memorial] Auditorium was not completed.
K: It was completed my freshman year.
P: Aaron, did they have compulsory chapel services in the auditorium?
K: No. You almost did not even have to go to classes. The only compulsory class
was ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] training.
P: Were there chapel services daily on the campus for the boys who wanted it?
K: No, I do not think so. I have no recollection of hearing anything about that.
P: When you came in 1923, where was the library? Peabody Hall?
K: I do not recall.
P: The big library that we now call Library East was finished in 1925, so it was built
while you were here.
K: If you say so, I accept it, but I do not recall it.
P: Do you recall the little auditorium on the second floor of Peabody Hall?
K: Yes, I do.
P: It was Teacher's College, and that, of course, is where the College of Education
K: I recall the auditorium you make reference to because when I was ready to
graduate, [Klein H.] Graham, who was then the registrar, told me that my diploma
was being held up and that I had to report to the military. It was where the
military's office was, in that auditorium that you just made reference to. I went
up there, and Major [James A.] Van Fleet [ROTC commandant and football
coach] was sitting behind a desk. I walked in there, and he looked at some
papers on his desk and said, "Kanner, there are certain things that were issued
to you as a freshman that have not been returned. Shirts I guess you wore
them out. A bayonet I guess you must have broken that chopping wood." He
checked that out, signed something, and said, "I am going to leave now. Stay
here until ten minutes after eleven, and then take this over to Graham. You are
P: That was an easy way to get out. Why were you taking ROTC?
K: Because it was compulsory for all freshmen.
P: That is because the University was a land grant school.
P: You took it for two years, your freshman and sophomore years?
K: One year. Then I went into law school. Law school was a four-year course
then. You did not have to have a degree to get into law school. It required only
a one-year general collegiate training. The second year you went into your
P: Where was the drill field?
K: Fleming Field. I guess Florida Field is part of the old Fleming field.
P: Were the cadets drilled on that property?
K: Yes, that is where we had our monthly dress parade. It was just like in part of
Gone With The Wind: there was a battle, and the townspeople came out to watch
the battle progress. Every time there was a dress parade, all the townspeople
came out and sat in the stands to watch.
P: Did you use the plaza at all for any kind of activities like that?
K: We never had a plaza, Sam.
P: Well, you had that central square in front of the auditorium, between Floyd and
Peabody [halls], a cleared area that had grass on it. It is still there today.
K: I have no recollection of it.
P: You know Science and Language Halls are at one end, and at the other end are
Peabody and Floyd. That big, open area in between is the plaza.
K: In your freshman year you were divided into companies, like Company A,
Company B, and Company C. I remember I was in Company C, and I
remember Company B was right across this area that you must be talking about.
P: Did you drill there, also, as a company?
K: No, we went to Fleming Field to drill.
P: Everything was on Fleming Field.
P: The drill, the parade, and all of that activity. Who was in charge of your ROTC
K: Captain Bane. He was a graduate of West Point [Military Academy], and he had
been a colonel in the First World War and in charge of the city of Koblenz,
Germany after the war.
P: Was he a good friend of yours?
K: Yes, he got me through mathematics. My mathematics class used to be on the
same dates that the ROTC classes were on. The ROTC classes were
scheduled for one hour, but they usually lasted only about ten minutes because
Bane would talk about his World War I experiences, and then he would dismiss
the class. All the problems that I was confronted with in math (I never studied
hard in math), he tutored me. He used to have me look up logarithms in the
back of the book. I would read a problem to him, and he would scribble on the
board and say, "Finish it out."
P: And you finished it out and passed. Did they have both infantry and artillery in
K: No, only infantry.
P: Artillery came in the 1930s, I think. They brought horses into the program later, I
think sometime during the 1930s. Did you go to school on Saturday in those
K: Yes, we did.
P: What kind of athletics were you involved in during those early years on campus?
K: I tried out for the baseball team, and I made the freshmen ball team as a second
baseman. That is about all. I was a skinny kid.
K: Tall, but skinny. I did not have very much ability.
P: They had a basketball team.
K: Well, members of the football team after the season became basketball players.
They never had much success playing basketball or football, for that matter.
P: I was going to say we did not have great success with football, either. So you
were on the campus in the period of the 1920s when this state began to explode
as a result of the boom, and times were relatively prosperous.
K: John Martin had become governor [1925-1929], and the legislature had started to
appropriate money. It was very meager at that time, and all of the support for
education or athletics was very minimal.
P: Were there paved roads and sidewalks on the campus?
K: No, there were not. University Avenue itself was nothing in the world but two
rows of ruts going east and two rows of ruts going west. When it rained, you
would have to cross at the Ocala intersection, or you had to walk all the way
down to College Inn to cross because that was hardened. It had a more solid
P: Did you ever go into town? You had to work, of course, on Saturday.
K: In law school I used to go into town later at night after we studied for an exam.
There was a restaurant right close to where L. & L. Men's Shop was, and you
could get a good steak for seventy-five cents. We used to go into town and get
a good steak for dinner.
P: That was a Greek-run restaurant, I believe. How did you get to town?
P: You did not have a bicycle?
P: It was about a mile.
K: That was just a leisurely walk.
P: Was there any construction, any houses, between Ocala Drive and downtown, or
was it just woods?
K: There were some houses there, but I have no recollection that any construction
was going on.
P: Were the big fraternities already around the corner there at the entrance to the
University, the PiKA [Pi Kappa Alpha] house, the SAE [Sigma Alpha Epsilon]
K: The PiKA house was on one corner, and the SAE house was on the other corner.
The ATO [Alpha Tau Omega] house was down Ocala Drive and over on the left.
P: So those houses were already in place. The KA [Kappa Alpha] house was up
on University Avenue. Those fraternities had already been organized, and those
boys had houses to live in and places to eat. What kind of social life was there
on campus before you became involved in the fraternity?
K: There was no social life, none at all.
P: What did students do--besides study, of course?
K: Well, there were intramurals. I guess that was probably the foundation of social
life. There was nothing beyond that.
P: Where was the gymnasium?
K: It was somewhere around where Fleming Field is now. It was a small building
that used to be called "the armory." It had a basketball court on the second
floor, and that was it.
P: And an auditorium was in that building.
P: That was later converted into the women's gymnasium, and it is still standing.
Now they are trying to organize it into a faculty club. It is still in the same place,
but that was the gymnasium back then. It had showers and those kinds of
things. There was no swimming pool?
K: No, of course not.
P: Where did the swimming team work out?
K: I do not think we had a swimming team.
P: Did students go swimming in the old sink holes around?
K: There was some lake close by where we used to go once in awhile.
P: Just through the woods.
P: Freeze's Pond, I think it was called.
K: That is it.
P: That is still standing, of course. It is right around the corner from my house.
They did have a swimming team, and they used that pond for awhile. It was
kind of muddy water, I would think, in there, but you could not worry about that.
K: There were a few alligators, too, I guess.
P: Where were the women?
K: There were no women on campus.
P: Were there women in town for dates if there was a dance or something.
K: You went to Tallahassee and imported them from there, or from your home town.
P: How did you get to Tallahassee? You did not have a car.
K: You thumbed your way up.
P: You would stand on the corner and hope somebody would pick you up.
K: Which they would very readily do.
P: They were not afraid to pick up hitchhikers. How did they know you were a
K: You wore a freshman rat cap.
P: You got that when you registered in your freshman year? What did it look like?
K: It was a green cap.
P: I thought it was orange.
K: It was green in those days.
P: Well, our school colors were orange and blue.
K: But the rat caps were green.
P: Well, whoever organized them was color blind.
K: That could be true.
P: Anyway, you had a colored beanie.
K: By the time I graduated, I found out that the easiest way to get to Gainesville was
to get on the roadway, and I could beat the train to Orlando by six or seven hours
hitchhiking with my thumb.
P: So the boys would take treks over to Tallahassee to meet the girls over there. I
think there was a handful of Jewish girls going to the school in Tallahassee.
K: There was.
P: I want to ask you how the fraternity came into being. As I understand it, there
was a fraternity organized here in 1923, but it did not survive.
K: ZBT [Zeta Beta Tau].
P: Do you know anything about the history of that?
K: Only rumor and people's comments about it. Factually, I know nothing. It
seems to me what I heard was it ran up a lot of debt that they could not pay or
would not pay, and they were finally dissolved and left campus.
P: So that meant that there were no Jewish fraternities as a result of their leaving.
How did the two Jewish fraternities come into existence, particularly TEP, since
that is the one you were affiliated with?
K: My group of boys were from all over the state. We had boys from Miami,
Tampa, Orlando, Live Oak, and Jacksonville, and there was another group of
boys primarily from Jacksonville. We were boys who were scattered around the
state, and we had two Gainesville boys who were in our group. We were a
cosmopolitan Florida group of young Jewish boys. I had a cousin who was a
member of TEP at Georgia Tech [Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA],
Herman Kanner. I went to Atlanta to a football game, and I saw Herman and
told him that we wanted to become a national fraternity. Max Orovitz was a TEP
at Emory [University, Atlanta, GA], and he and Herman roomed together. We
sat down and mapped out a program for us to follow here in Gainesville. We
were accepted nationally, and we were finally inducted.
P: In 1925?
P: How long had the colony operated before you became national? Did you
operate as a club here on campus?
K: Yes, we rented a house down University Avenue on a little side street in there
behind the filling station. We all started living together in the same place, and
we got a cook and began serving meals to our group.
P: That is even before you went national.
K: Long before.
P: Aaron, tell me the names of some of the boys who were in that group.
K: Ben Finman from Tampa, who is now deceased; Morris Bennett I do not know
whether he is in jail or not.
P: Why do you think he would be in jail?
K: Last I heard, he had been indicted for income tax evasion.
P: Where was he from?
K: Tampa. [There was] Jake Safer, who is a doctor in Jacksonville; Morris
Solomon from Orlando; Charlie Wax from West Palm Beach; and myself.
P: What did Charlie Wax do later?
K: His father was supposed to have had a lot of money. I never knew what he
went into after he got out of school.
P: Which ones are from Jacksonville?
K: Jake Safer. He is the only one.
P: Who was from Miami?
K: We had Joe Schwartz.
P: Is he still living?
K: Last I heard he was.
P: And you and Morris Solomon were from Orlando. How many boys were there?
K: There were two Gainesville boys, Louis and Marcus Edelstein.
P: They were brothers.
K: Yes, and they were here from Gainesville. That was one of our main points of
excellence: all of the Gainesville boys hung around our house and not the other
group's house. They all seemed to float toward us, and we had the feeling from
all of the Gainesville boys that Gainesville was our town. We got the Rabinowitz
boys thereafter. All of the boys from Gainesville who were eligible for college all
P: What was the name of the other fraternity?
K: Phi Beta Delta.
P: Where did they have a house?
K: I do not know.
P: Did you have a faculty person working with you at the time?
P: You did not need one then?
K: No, we never got into any trouble. We had no drugs. For our big shindigs we
would have maybe a pint of whiskey. We used to go to Ocala to get moonshine.
That was when we were really raising hell about something.
P: You moved from the cottage you were living in to the TEP house?
K: Yes. We got this man to build a house for us on Ocala Drive, and he painted the
thing lavender, which was the color of our fraternity.
P: Wait a minute, now. I want to make sure I get this transition right. The first
house, I think you said, was off of University Avenue?
P: As I recall, that would be about 10th Street today. I do not know what the name
of it was then, but it was near the old TEP house on University Avenue. Is that
K: The first house where we used to have the colony before we went national?
K: That was our first TEP house.
P: That was a rented house, and that is where you lived, also?
P: Who did you room with?
K: Morris Bennett.
P: And you ate there, too; you had your own cook. Who ran that operation?
K: It ran itself.
P: Well, somebody had to tell the cook what to fix.
K: It was not me.
P: You were just there enjoying it.
P: From there you moved to the house on Ocala, which we now call 13th Street.
You had that house built?
K: We did not put any money into it. I do not know who found that man who was
willing to rent it to us on our say that we would pay him $125 per month rent, but
he built the house, and we were the first occupants. He painted the house
lavender at our request.
P: It was a two-story house.
K: It was. It had a big living room and rooms for all the boys.
P: It was in the second block on 100 NW 13th Street on the left-hand side. There
is a shopping complex there now. There is an Eckerd's drugstore and a yogurt
place on that property at the present time.
K: I do not know what is there now, but I remember the house.
P: I am just saying that to identify it for the tape. So you came here in the fall of
1923. When did you start law school?
P: After your freshman year, you went right into the law school program. Where
were the law school classes held?
K: The law school itself was right at the entrance of Ocala Road and University
Drive. You sort of walked in at a caddy-corner angle, and there was the law
P: The official name of it was Bryan Hall. Were all of the classes there? Was the
law library there?
K: It was.
P: Who was the dean?
K: Harry R. Trusler was dean.
P: Who were some of the other faculty people? Was [Clifford W.] Crandall
K: Crandall was probably teaching.
P: What about [Clarence J.] TeSelle?
K: He was not there.
P: He was not there yet.
K: There was [H. L.] Thompson who had written some elementary books on
inheritance law. He was a teacher.
P: Did you have to get dressed up with a tie and a coat to go to class?
K: No. As long as you wore pants, it was okay.
P: What about the tradition that developed of shuffling your feet if you did not like
what the instructor said or if he kept you after the bell? Was that put in place
when you were there?
K: Not as I recall, no. Kapell was another professor. He had been on the [Florida]
Supreme Court bench and had been defeated for re-election, and he was
P: So they had a strong law school faculty.
K: They did.
P: There were just those four or five instructors, though, right?
P: Where was the law library?
K: It was on the second floor of the building.
P: You went to school six days a week, and it was a three-year program?
K: It was.
P: And you were graduated in 1927.
K: In June.
P: Did you remain active in the fraternity during those years?
K: Yes. I had moved out of the fraternity house into the second floor of a house on
University Drive. The owner was a justice of the peace. I found I could study
P: Were you a good student?
K: I found law study to be very simple. I was never really stymied by any of my
courses. I do not want to brag, but as I listen to my two sons talk about their
tenure at the University of Florida and how much studying they had to do and the
hours they usually had to commit, I could not quite grasp it because I found law
courses so simple. I grasped them very easily, and I never had any difficulty
P: So you came out of law school and graduated with a good record, then.
P: I want to go back and talk a little bit about the fraternity, Aaron. Did you hold
any office in the fraternity?
K: Yes. I was vice-counselor, and I ran the house for two years.
P: What does running the house mean?
K: I really do not know what it meant. It was probably just collecting the monthly
rent from the boys I made damn sure they paid theirs so we could pay our rent.
That is about all it involved. In this house on Ocala Road we had no meals.
P: Oh, you did not serve food there?
P: Where did you eat?
K: Wherever we could.
P: Was there was a restaurant on the corner?
P: What was it called? The Varsity? The Black Cat?
K: The Black Cat. The boy who ran it was later appointed by Fuller Warren as
head of the road department when Fuller became governor [in 1949].
P: How about the College Inn?
K: That was where the boys used to get their mail. That was way up University
Avenue, close to where the football field is today.
P: And you got your mail there?
P: Did you have a box, and you went to pick it up?
P: After that, they moved the post office to the campus itself.
K: I have no knowledge of that.
P: Were there movies in Gainesville when you were going to school?
K: There was one theater somewhere downtown.
P: The Lyric?
K: That sounds right.
P: Or the Florida Theater?
K: I think the Florida Theater was there, too.
P: What about these pajama parades? What were they?
K: They were victory celebrations. When we won a football game, we would all get
out our pajama tops and march downtown. I remember one particular time
when the freshmen won a game, the varsity won a game, and Gainesville High
School won a game all that same day. That was the biggest victory
celebration they had ever had in Gainesville.
P: I understand, too, that sometimes you would get a free movie at the Florida
Theater on Saturday night.
K: Yes, but I never experienced that.
P: Well, you were working at the L. & L. shop. I also heard that there was a custom
in those early years that promptly at 11:00 all of the boys would leave their dorm
rooms and so on and go across University Avenue for a hamburger and a milk
shake or something. It was like clockwork every night. Does that ring a bell
K: I never lived in the dormitories, so I never experienced that, either.
P: Was there a great rivalry between TEP and PhiBD's?
K: There was. We became a national fraternity, and they could not stand it. We
set a date for our installation, and they could not stomach that, either, so they
went national in very short order on the date prior to the date that we went
national -just so they could say they beat us on campus.
P: Aaron, why did you and your friends feel that it was necessary to organize a
Jewish fraternity? Why did you not just go into to SAE or one of the others?
K: Jewish boys were not admitted to the gentile fraternities.
P: Was that because of overt anti-Semitism on campus?
K: Not to any degree that was evident, but it was a cardinal rule of those fraternities
that neither Jewish students nor black students could be admitted as brothers.
P: Of course, there were no black students on campus yet.
P: Were there any female students at all that you recall?
K: One or two in law school. Female students could only attend the University of
Florida if the course was not offered at FSCW. They could then come here if it
were offered here.
P: Did you have any friends in the PhiBD fraternity?
K: No. That is a long story in itself. I had quite a run-in with them as a freshman.
I came to Gainesville with Frank Benbow, who had a brother, Richard, who was
one year ahead of him in school. When we got here, Richard said to me,
"Kanner, you go down to the College Inn and get my mail for me." I started
down the street, and these boys who lived across the street came over and
accosted me, saying, "Come over here and fix this." I said, "I cannot. I am
going to the College Inn for Dick Benbow." One word led to another, and I finally
told them to go to hell, and I kept walking.
That evening, that whole gang of guys came over and said, "We are going
to have a rat party. We are looking for Rat Kanner" they used to label
freshmen as rats. There were a couple of upperclassmen in the house where
we were, and they asked what I had done. They said, "He insulted us." Up the
street came Bill Mieddlekauf, who was a fullback on the football team. He and I
were both from Orlando and had taken violin lessons together. Bill came up on
the porch of the place and said, "Hell, a rat party," and he took off his belt. Dick
called him aside and told him what had happened. I remember Bill Mieddlekauf
walked into the middle of the group, folded his arms, and said, "This rat party is
over," and it was.
I never had ten words with any of those guys from then on in all my
campus years here. Those boys met me later on and asked why I had not told
them that I was Jewish. I said, "What the hell does that have to do it? I think
you are no God damn good."
P: Aaron, what do you remember about those early homecoming days in the
1920s? They were just getting started on campus.
K: We used to have a parents day, and I remember I invited my father up.
P: And he came?
K: He came, but I could not even sit with him. He had to sit over on the west side,
and I had to sit with the students on the east side. He stayed in a hotel. The
Gators used to play very simple games, like Drake [University, Des Moines, IA]
or Rollins [College, Winter Park, FL]. It would be a big-scoring game: 6-0 or 3-0.
P: Everybody was waiting for next year [laughter].
K: They were all over-weight and they were all under I was going to say underfed,
but they could not have been underfed because they were all overweight.
P: Who was the football coach?
K: Major Van Fleet. He later became a general in the Korean conflict.
P: He was a West Point graduate, was he not?
K: He was. Van Fleet later went on a speaking tour to raise money for the
University, and he spoke in Miami. I went up to him and reminded him of what
he had told me in his office: "Stay till ten minutes after eleven, and then you can
P: So he was the ROTC commandant and also the coach. He stayed here for
awhile, and then he got transferred to Panama. Who succeeded him? Was
that Everett Yon [UF athletic director]?
K: No, I think Tom Sebring [Van Fleet's assistant coach] came in about that time.
He became a justice of the supreme court of Florida, and he was in the German
war trials as a judge.
P: During the Nurnberg trials?
K: Right, he was a judge.
P: So Florida had some famous men in its athletic program in the twenties?
K: They graduated and finally became renown for what they accomplished.
P: Yet they have made renowned careers for themselves at the University of
K: [B. K.] Roberts was in my class, and he became a [Florida] Supreme Court
P: There was a student newspaper on campus.
K: I do not remember that at all.
P: Yes, there was. The Alligator was already in publication, and there was a
yearbook. Do you remember the Seminole?
K: I do.
P: Were you actively involved in any of those kinds of activities?
K: Not to any great degree, no.
P: What about in the law school? Did you hold any office there?
K: I held an office in the John Marshall Bar Society.
P: That is the one that puts on the skits every year at homecoming.
K: Now they do. We did not do much in those days.
P: Where was the moot court?
K: In the courtroom on the second floor. There was a podium on the wall, there
was a row of seats out here, and there was a jury box on the side. That is
where the moot court was.
P: What courses did you take in law school? Was it a variety of everything: torts,
K: We had no specialized courses. We had property law, constitutional law,
contracts, torts, criminal law, criminal procedure. I even took a biblical course.
P: That was not law.
K: No, but it was credited to law. I took that because it had a Roman background; I
think they called it Roman law.
P: Were there any activities available on this campus for Jewish students outside of
the fraternities? Was there a Hillel or any kind of Jewish organization?
K: No, nothing like that.
P: All of that came later. So for a social life a Jewish boy really had to get into a
P: And he was not welcome in a non-Jewish fraternity.
K: You either joined a fraternity or went home.
P: There just was not any chance to meet other Jewish guys.
K: There were a few Jewish girls here you could date if you wanted to.
P: In Gainesville?
P: In town, of course. Who were they?
K: The two Greensberg girls.
P: Yes. And the Mayzo girl.
K: I remember that name, too. That is almost the entire list.
P: You did not have very many.
K: I think those three were probably the total list.
P: You had to go to Jacksonville or Tallahassee or Orlando to meet Jewish girls.
P: You graduated in June of 1927. How did it happen that you got to Miami?
K: My sister was married and living in Miami. When I graduated, I went to Stuart.
My cousin, A. O. Kanner, was practicing law there. He had been appointed
state's attorney by Governor [John W.] Martin [1925-29] when the county was
formed after being partitioned off from Palm Beach County, and I was supposed
to go into his law office. I came into Stuart at night, and the damn town was
small there was nothing there but mosquitoes. When I saw A. 0. the next
day, I had already made up my mind that I could not stay in Stuart. It was too
small. I went on to Miami and found a job there, and I have been there ever
P: You went to Miami completely on your own? You did not have any connections
K: My sister was there.
P: But I mean no professional contacts. You did not know anybody practicing law.
P: Where did Morris Solomon go when he finished school?
K: He came to Miami and went to work for me.
P: I see. So you were the first one. Who did you go to work for?
K: James R. Cooper.
P: Where was that office?
K: I think it was in the Seabold Building in downtown Miami.
P: How much did you get paid?
K: Twenty-five dollars per week.
P: Per week? Was that was a pretty big salary?
K: It sustained me.
P: Where did you live in Miami?
K: I lived with my sister.
P: How did you meet Marsella?
K: My sister introduced me to her.
P: Was she your first girlfriend in Miami?
K: She was the only girlfriend I ever had in Miami.
P: When did you get married?
P: So you were out of school two years when you married Marsella.
P: Where was she from?
K: She was from Chicago.
P: What was her maiden name?
P: What was she doing in Miami?
K: Her parents had moved to Miami from Chicago. Her daddy had a bakery, and
she was attending the University of Miami.
P: So she was a coed down there when you met her. How did Rose happen to
K: There was a Jewish sorority colony formed, and Marsella and Rose had met in
P: Was your sister Rose older than Marsella?
K: Yes, but she was what you would call an overseer or an advisor.
P: Did Rose go to college?
K: She went to Rollins College, but she did not go to any state school.
P: And she did not go to the University of Miami when Marsella was there?
P: What course of study did Marsella take?
K: She earned a teacher's certificate.
P: Marsella must have been a good-looking woman.
K: She was.
P: Was she a good dancer?
K: She was a good swimmer.
P: She was always very athletic, and you had continued your interest in athletics.
K: I guess I did.
P: You have always been interested in athletics, particularly football, although as I
remember you said you started in baseball. What switched you?
K: None of my playing ability, I will say that!
P: Well, you do not seem to be much interested in Gator baseball today. Your
interest has been in the football program. So you went to work for Mr. Cooper in
Miami for twenty-five dollars a week. How long did you stay with him?
K: I started in 1927, and I stayed until or through 1928. Then I went to work for a
lawyer by the name of Harry Markle. He litigated many cases in which I was
interested, and he raised my pay to thirty-five dollars. That was when I decided I
had enough income to get married. We got married on thirty-five dollars a week.
P: So you had been dating Marsella for awhile.
P: And you got married in Miami?
P: At her mother's house?
K: No, at a hotel.
P: At the beach or in town?
K: In town, at the Columbus Hotel.
P: Oh, yes, the famous Columbus Hotel.
K: It is going to be torn down. It may be in the process now of being torn down.
P: That became a big society hotel. When you got married, was that a first-class
K: It was, but society in those days was just a few families; there were not very
many people in Miami. I remember the dinner. Her folks had maybe twenty
families for dinner, and that was the whole affair.
P: What synagogue did you belong to? What rabbi?
K: Dr. Jacob Kaplan of Temple Israel.
P: So you went right into the reform synagogue in Miami.
K: When I joined, yes.
P: Aaron, by the time you got to Miami and went into practice with Mr. Cooper, was
the boom collapsing?
K: It had already broken.
P: What broke it?
K: All the yankees ran out of money.
P: Then you had the hurricane.
K: That put the finishing touches on it.
P: Was that pretty devastating to south Florida?
K: Banks closed and people were out of work.
P: Do you remember the hurricane?
K: Yes. We got married the day after the hurricane.
P: There was a hurricane in 1926, and then there was a second hurricane in
September of 1928.
K: That was when we were married.
P: In 1928?
K: If the hurricane was in September of 1928, then the lottery numbers that I am
playing are wrong, because I thought we got married in 1929.
P: If you got married the day after the hurricane, what was the date of your
K: I thought it was September 29, 1929.
P: But if you got married the day after the hurricane, then it was September 1928.
No wonder you have not won the lottery.
K: I am going to have to change it. I took the date of Marsella's birth, the date that
she had died, and the date of our marriage. I knew those six figures, but I
thought we got married in 1929.
P: If so, then you got married one year after you graduated. If you graduated in
1927, then you would have gotten married in 1928, if you got married after the
K: It was the date, because I remember the roof went off the house. It was the day
after the hurricane.
P: The only two really bad hurricanes that hit were in September 1926 and that
ended the boom and September 1928, which was kind of the extra shovel on
the back of Florida.
K: I am glad you straightened me out, because I have to change my numbers.
P: It comes to a pretty pass when you have to come to Gainesville for me to get
your wedding date straightened out, Aaron Kanner.
K: In 1928 it would be sixty years, so I figure we were married fifty-nine years when
P: Aaron, when did you go into practice for yourself?
P: So you worked for Cooper for awhile, then you worked for Harry Markle who had
the kind of litigation you were interested in.
K: He eventually left Miami and went back to Detroit where he became the OPA
[Office of Price Administration] price administrator for the state of Michigan.
P: What made you decide to strike out on your own? That was kind of risky.
K: I guess I had no alternative.
P: Was Marsella encouraging you?
K: She was not discouraging me.
P: Did she work?
K: She worked, such as it was, as a substitute teacher.
P: When were your children born?
K: Richard was born about three years after we were married. Two years later
P: What is Richard's full name?
K: Richard Aaron Kanner. I wanted a junior, but my dad said that was the wrong
thing to do; he said that my mother would not rest if I named him junior. He
carried on so that I called Dr. Kaplan and said, "Use whatever Hebrew name my
dad gives you, but when you write it down on the certificate of birth, put Richard,
then Aaron in the middle, and then Kanner." When Lewis was born we named
him Lewis Mitchell, so I figured between the two boys I had a junior.
P: And you had it all set up so that all the names were recognized: Kanner, Mitchell,
Aaron, and Lewis.
K: Lewis was named after Marsella's father.
P: His first name was Lewis? Lewis Seiden.
P: What was Marsella's mother's name?
K: Jenny Polechek Seiden.
P: Was Marsella an only child?
K: She had a younger brother who had died. His name was Alec Seiden.
P: I see. Where was your first office?
K: In the Seabold Building.
P: How long did you stay there?
K: For ten, twelve, or fifteen years. Then I moved to the DuPont Building until the
P: Did your practice begin to prosper during the thirties? It was a Depression
K: No, it started to make us a living really after the war.
P: But during the thirties you had to struggle?
P: People did not pay their bills?
K: There just was not any business.
P: So you made do the best way you could. You did not need anybody outside
helping you, did you?
P: You made it on your own. Did you ever have a partner or anybody associated
with you, or throughout your practice you practiced alone?
P: How did you happen to get such important people in the Jewish community as
your clients? Max Orovitz, for instance.
K: I was a good lawyer, and I took care of the business that they gave me. I
showed an interest in what their problems were, and I helped resolve them so
they came out best.
P: From the DuPont Building you moved where?
K: From the DuPont Building I moved to [inaudible] Arcade.
P: And that is where you were at the end of your legal career?
K: No, I moved to the City National Bank Building. Those are the offices that you
and Bessie said today (or maybe you said) that you liked, and I commented that I
had designed them. That was really the first set of offices I ever occupied that I
personally designed. It was not an office that I took over that somebody else
had utilized. I took empty space, and I decided how it was set up.
P: Aaron, while you were practicing law, did you become involved at all in politics?
Were you ever involved in any way in politics in Dade County?
K: No, I never ran for any office. At one time, I was supposed to have been
appointed a circuit court judge by LeRoy Collins [governor, state of Florida,
1955-1961], but the S.O.B. then refused to appoint me.
K: He appointed someone else.
K: It had to be politics.
P: So that was a great disappointment to you, was it?
K: Yes, it was emotionally, but financially it was a blessing that he never intended to
bestow. My productive years really boomed thereafter.
P: It was not because he had anything against you, was it?
K: He did not even know me.
P: It was just that he was more committed to somebody else.
K: I do not know what his personal reasons were, but he never appointed me.
P: Did he ever give you an explanation or an apology?
K: No, he never spoke to me personally. Bill Singer, who was chairman of the road
board, was my sponsor. I do not know what he told Bill, but Bill never reported
back to me any particular reason why I was not appointed.
P: Why have you maintained all of this enthusiastic interest in the University of
Florida? You have been gone since 1927.
K: The modicum of success that I have had in the practice of law I achieved through
the training that I had here. Some success is probably due to my own initiative
in the practice itself, but I think I owe the University that much of a responsibility,
and I intend to try to pay back to the University in part what the University gave
me the opportunity to do.
P: Is that also true about the fraternity? You have been a loyal and dedicated TEP
man over the years.
K: I guess you are talking about social life. The fraternity was ingrained in me, and
I have maintained my interest in the fraternity because I think it plays an
important part in fixing the lives of young men and helping them formulate their
P: You have had a strong attachment to the University and to the fraternity for a
very long time, and you have come back to visit the University many times.
K: As often as I can.
P: Over the years you have been a relatively frequent visitor, particularly in the
fifties and sixties.
K: I used to see all of the football games until my wife became ill. Then we could
not travel together, and I would not come without her. While she was a graduate
of the University of Miami, she was a University of Florida alumna "by injection," I
always called it. She sent two boys here; both of my sons graduated from here,
and a daughter-in-law graduated from here.
P: And grandchildren.
K: They came here, too.
P: So beginning in 1923 almost to the present time, there has been a Kanner
presence at the University of Florida.
K: We finally ran out of grandchildren.
P: I know, but the fact is that you have continued your interest. You were here for
homecoming and you are here again, so you obviously love the community and
you love the campus.
K: Oh, yes, I love this town and I love this University. I would do anything in the
world to help support it, and I do support it financially to the best of my ability. I
cannot give the grandiose dollars that other people give, but each year I do give
within the scope of my own income and financial ability. I send a check each
year to the Holland law school [named for United States Senator Spessard L.
Holland] and to the [University of Florida] Foundation.
P: Aaron, what about your life in Miami as a Jew? What responsibilities did you
take on there? Start maybe with the hospital and the federation; talk about
things like that.
K: I do not know why I started, because I had no formal Jewish training and I really
knew very little about Jewish life as such. I was raised, of course, in a gentile
community. My cousin Morris and I were the only Jewish boys in the whole high
school, and we had no formal Jewish training. I saw a need for younger people
to become interested in Jewish life, and it fell upon me take the lead.
I started working in the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. I was originally
just an ordinary volunteer, working on cards for thanking contributors. I must
have done a good job, because they moved me up to chairman of the trades
division. Then they moved me up to chairman of the lawyers' division. The
lawyers' division of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation raised probably $2,500
to $3,000 from all of the Jewish lawyers that were in Miami. When I was
chairman of the drive, we must have tripled or quadrupled that total to maybe
$25,000 to $50,000 or more. Then I became the general chairman of the drive,
and I must have done a good job again because I was named as the successive
chairman. Thereafter, I was named president of the Greater Miami Jewish
Federation, which I served for two years. Under my tutelage, they prospered,
such as they were.
I had known Judge Sam Lebowitz, the famous New York criminal lawyer.
I used to go to the races with him in Miami. When I was chairman of the
lawyers' division, we were planning to have this lawyers' fund-raising dinner, so I
called him in New York and said, "Sam, I want you to come down here and make
a speech for me." He said, "Whatever you want me to do." I said, "We are
going to have this lawyers' dinner, and I want you to come down here and give
the keynote address." He said he would be glad to come, and it was a
phenomenal success. I remember one lawyer, Bernard Frank, who had given
ten dollars the previous year, and he raised his contribution to $500. He
accused me of forcing him make a pledge that was disproportionate to what he
was required. I said, "Well, pay what you can, and keep paying until you get it
P: And he did.
P: What about your involvement in the Sinai Hospital?
K: Well, I served two terms as president of the federation, which was the first time
that had happened. There was nobody following behind me whom they thought
would carry on to the degree that I had pushed it ahead. After that, I was asked
to serve on the board of the hospital. I remember when I was a member of
Westview Country Club, Jerry Lewis came up to me one day and said, "Can you
be a member of the board of trustees and follow your own impulses and not be
under the supervision of Mike Sorbis?" I said, "Hell, I have always been
independent, and I will continue to be. Are you offering me the position?" He
said, "Yes. We would like you to be on the board."
P: What board is this?
K: Mount Sinai Medical. I served three years, and then I served three more years.
After the first year, they put me on the board for three years. Then I was put
back on the board for another three years. Then they said I ought to be a life
trustee, and I have been on the board ever since.
P: You made a very generous gift to the hospital, too, did you not?
K: I gave them $50,000.
P: Are you still actively involved in the hospital, for their meetings?
K: Gary Gershin is the chairman, and he wrote me a letter asking me to come to the
meeting. In the letter he said they missed my counsel, my input, and my
consent and approval. They had some important business coming up, and I
figured he must have been looking for a close vote and that he figured I would
probably vote with him.
P: He also has been a very loyal and dedicated alumnus of the University of Florida.
K: I know. He has given substantial amounts of money.
P: Well, he has not only given substantial amounts of money, but he has continued
his interest in the programs. He was also a member of the fraternity. So those
have been two major activities of yours in the Miami community--the federation
and the hospital.
K: I did work, of course, in the temple.
P: I was going to ask you about the temple, also.
K: I have been on the board of directors there for years. Finally Joe Narit, the
rabbi, and I could not see eye-to-eye, so I left the board, and Marsella was put on
the board to replace me.
P: Then she became the president of the sisterhood auxiliary?
K: She was president of the sisterhood for several years, and then she became
president of the Southeast Council of Temple Sisterhoods. Then they wanted to
put her on the national board, but I said "Enough is enough, honey," and she
said, "Fine." She was getting tired of going around the country making
P: She played a major leadership role, then, in Miami and in the southeast.
K: She did.
P: So you were active in three major areas of Jewish life in the Miami community.
Were you a strong supporter of UJA [United Jewish Appeal], or did that come
under the federation?
K: That was in the federation.
P: I see. That was no separate operation at all.
K: I contributed to the federation every year without being solicited. I would give
them $1,500 to $2,000.
P: Tell me about Westview Country Club. I know you were active in it for a long
K: That was formed by a group of Miami Jewish men who were not welcome in the
other clubs in the general community.
P: So in self defense they organized their own social club.
K: I was not asked to join that group. Finally, when they encountered hard times,
they had the Ackermans call me and invite me to dinner there. I told Bob
Ackerman, "I will go to dinner with you in Palm Beach, and I will go to dinner with
you in a Burger King, but I will not go with you to dinner at Westview. I am
egotistical enough to know that it was no mistake that my name was omitted; I
am sure it was done intentionally. I will only go to Westview if Joe Weintraub
asks me to be a member." Joe called me the very next day and said, "Aaron,
we made a very bad mistake. We should have invited you originally."
P: Who was Joe Weintraub?
K: He is still alive, thank goodness. He is the president of the Pan American Bank.
P: I see. And he was a friend? So on that basis you joined. When was that?
K: That has to be twenty-five years ago or more.
P: You liked to play golf for a long time, Aaron. Were you a good golfer?
K: I turned into a good golfer.
P: When did you take that up as a hobby?
K: I do not know. It was just natural ability. Being able to play baseball, I could
swing a golf club. I won the Fifth Flight championship at the country club, and I
played in the Dade County amateurs in the Fifth Flight. I went to the semi-finals.
There were guys in the Fifth Flight in the Dade County Amateur who would
shoot a seventy just to win the prize. When they qualified, they would shoot in
the nineties, but if you made a bet with them, they could shoot a seventy. When
I went to the semi-finals, I thought that was quite a feat.
P: Did you come home with those golf clubs?
K: No. I was about a fifteen handicapper, but I was the kind of golfer who would
shoot four or five pars at you in a round. I was a hell of a competitor. I was not
a good mental player, but I was a tough match player.
P: Aaron, you and Marsella liked the social life of the club, too, did you not?
K: We did.
P: You played cards?
K: Every week on Saturdays.
P: And Marsella did, too?
K: She played Mah-Jongg [a board game played with tiles].
P: Was she a golfer?
K: She was.
P: A good golfer?
K: No, a real hacker.
P: But she enjoyed it.
K: She did.
P: Where did you live in Miami?
K: When we were first married, we lived in an apartment on NE 33rd Street, which
we rented. Her mother thought that was not good enough for her daughter, so
her mother and Lew moved out of the house so we could move in we took over
her mother's home. We lived there until we bought our house in Bay Heights,
some thirty-five or more years ago.
P: You built the house in Bay Heights?
P: And it was a very nice home?
K: It was.
P: Your children grew up in the other house?
K: Yes, they did.
P: One of the things you became famous for at that house in Bay Heights was your
New Year's party.
K: Yes, it was a tradition in Miami. I was in the federation at the time, and it was an
Orange Bowl party. The Orange Bowl in those days was played in the
afternoon, and after the game some 500 or more people would come over during
the course of the day. We served egg nog, and we had a caterer. People still
talk about her parties.
P: The house was big, and you used it and the yard?
K: Yes. We had a television in one room. I think we had three televisions on
because guys were betting on games the Sugar Bowl game and the Rose Bowl
game. They congregated around the particular television set that had the game
they were interested in. They did not pay much attention to the food; as long as
you kept them supplied with whiskey they were happy.
P: I remember you had a connection with the Schenley operation in Miami.
K: Yes, I represented them.
P: Everybody who was anybody in the Jewish community was at your New Year's
K: They were, every one of them.
P: Well, in many ways you were one of the founders of the Jewish community
because you had lived there for such a long time.
K: Since 1927.
P: When you finally gave up the practice of law, how many years had you been in?
K: I started in 1927, and I think I quit in December of 1986. I did not start 1987.
P: That is a long time.
K: It is fifty-nine years.
P: That is right. That has to be one of the records as far as the Florida Bar
Association is concerned.
K: Yes. I have a fifty-year certificate from the Florida bar.
P: Then you worked beyond that.
K: Yes, nine more years.
P: Did you ever hold an office in the Florida Bar Association?
P: Were you active in the American Bar Association?
P: You were a member of the American Bar, were you not?
P: You did not have to join it, then.
K: No. I did join the Florida Bar.
P: You have two married sons. What is Richard's wife's name?
K: Regina. Lew's wife's name is Marsha. I have two grandchildren who are
P: Name your grandchildren for me so we get them on the record.
K: We have Jacqueline I call her Jackie because I was rooting for boys.
P: You are speaking of Richard's children now?
K: Yes. I wanted to see the name Kanner perpetuated to some degree. Marsella
conceived and delivered two boys, but Richard's wife conceived and delivered
P: That was Richard's first wife.
P: And the oldest daughter from that marriage was Jackie.
K: Jacqueline. She is married to a doctor from London, England.
P: What is his name?
K: Michael Reubens.
P: And she is living in London today.
K: 96 Hungerford Road.
P: Now, the second child from Richard's first marriage is who?
K: Sherry Sharon. She is married to a boy in Boston named Carl Johnson. She
is pregnant now, and we are all elated about that.
P: Then Richard divorced his first wife and married his present wife Regina. Are
there any children from that marriage?
K: No. She brought two children to the marriage.
P: What are their names?
K: Sandra, who went to Tulane [University, New Orleans, LA] and graduated in
accounting, and Sam, who came to the University of Florida and graduated from
the engineering college.
P: Is Sandra married?
K: No, but Sam is.
P: Where is Sandra living now?
K: In Miami.
P: Is she working?
K: She works for an architectural firm.
P: What are the two children's last names?
P: Did Richard adopt the two children?
K: I do not think he formally adopted them.
P: But they go by Sandra Kanner and Sam
P: What does Sam do?
K: He works for IBM [International Business
P: Is he married?
K: He got married in July of last year.
P: There are no children?
Machines] in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Not yet, no.
All right. Now we go to Lewis's marriage to Marsha. She is Marsha Kanner
and a graduate of the University of Florida. They have how many children?
What is her name?
Is she married?
She is married to Benjamin Bohlmann.
Where do they live?
In south Miami.
What does Ellen do?
K: She works, and Ben is attending the University of Miami to finish his accountancy
P: So all of your grandchildren and step-grandchildren are married except one
daughter, and you have no great-grandchildren yet, but one is expected soon.
K: October or so.
P: Aaron, do you feel you have had a good life?
K: I think I have had a very good life.
P: What has been your philosophy of life? What has kept you going?
K: My family.
P: You have felt very close to your family?
K: Yes. In addition, what kept me going was the interest I have demonstrated in the
fraternity and in the University. I have never felt that they degraded me or
minimized my ability to work, so I try to show a degree of loyalty to the University.
Some people used to call me a "rah-rah" boy, and I used to laugh that off
because I felt that, in fact, they were the losers by refusing to demonstrate an
interest in the places where they formed their background and got their start.
They seemed to think that having an interest in a university or in Mount Sinai
Hospital, despite all of the criticisms that would be generated about those
institutions, was a sign of weakness. I always thought it was a sign of strength.
P: Aaron, you have been amazingly well, too, health-wise for eighty-three years,
have you not?
K: I have 10,000 ailments, none of which is serious enough to kill me.
P: But the fact is you have lived a long and healthy life. You have not had any
major illnesses beset you, have you?
K: I have had my appendix taken out.
P: That did not even cost you very much.
K: I think I paid the doctor $100.
P: And you live independently, do you not?
K: Yes, I have been successful enough in my practice to keep sufficient money and
assets to give me an income, so I am not dependent on anyone.
P: But I mean that you can physically take care of yourself.
K: Yes. I have a housemaid, and that is it.
P: And as far as I can see, you are mentally competent. Or is that a matter of
K: Plenty of people would say that is arguable. Seriously, I grope for a word now
and then. Sometimes I read in the paper about this Alzheimer's disease, and I
think maybe I have it. I know I will wake up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and I
cannot remember some detail, and I will not go back to sleep until I can put the
pieces together and remember the facts.
P: Aaron, you have lived a long life. You have been alert to things that have gone
on. You have traveled a lot. You read a lot. Everything we have been reading
and hearing over television seems to suggest a very alarming future. We hear
about drugs and we hear about crime we hear about all of these things. Are
you optimistic about the future?
K: As long as we have young people coming up I am optimistic, because this world
belongs to young people. The older people are the conservatives and the
younger people are not, and the younger people step in where we older folks will
not. I had in mind my granddaughter who lives in Boston. They are buying a
house, and they are paying $340,000 for it. I was talking to Bessie today and
said, "For $340,000, I would not have the nerve to tackle anything like that."
And I would not, but they do not seem to fathom the least bit of concern. They
went to a bank to arrange their financing, and I spoke to Carl and asked, "Are
you sure you can carry those monthly payments? They will come to you about
every other day." He said, "I am not concerned about my job. I can produce it."
P: So the world is not going to come to an end tomorrow.
K: Not unless somebody drops a bomb on all of us.
P: Well, we hope that that is not likely to happen. What else do you think that we
ought to put on this tape about Aaron Mitchell Kanner?
K: I am glad to be alive, and I am sorry as hell that my wife is not here to be with us.
P: She would have enjoyed this weekend because she liked to come to Gainesville,
and we always liked to have her.
K: I hope my responses to you have not been a disappointment, and I appreciate
the fact that you have taken this much time with me to interrogate me.
P: The truth is, I have long wanted to do this interview because you are not only a
friend, but you are a loyal, dedicated person who has lived in Florida a long time.
You had two important stories to tell, and you have done both of them well: one
as a pioneer Jewish Floridian in the twentieth century, and also a Gator a
University of Florida person who had a good memory of the past. You recalled a
lot of details of what life was like on this campus many years ago. That is the
kind of record I have been trying to have recorded, and you have done very well.
So now we will sign off.
[End of the interview]